London: BP Plc has emerged as the front-runner to buy BHP Billiton Ltd’s onshore oil and gas operations in the US, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The London-based oil major has made the highest offer for the assets, which BHP prefers selling in a single package, said the person, who asked to not be identified because the matter isn’t public.

A deal hasn’t been completed and it could be weeks before an agreement is reached, the person said.

The Australian mining conglomerate, based in Melbourne, received initial offers about two months ago from BP, Chevron Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, among others, people familiar with the matter said in June. Those bids valued BHP’s US unit at as much as $9 billion (Dh33 billion).

BHP announced plans to sell the business about a year ago under pressure from activist investor Elliott Management Corp, which had described the company’s foray into US oil and gas exploration as an enormous financial bust.

The assets up for grabs include about 800,000 net acres in four US shale basins, including the Permian Basin, one of the most productive oilfields in the world.

BP is among the few oil majors that lack a substantial presence in the Permian, where Exxon Mobil Corp and others have aggressively expanded through acquisitions.

A BP representative declined to comment. Representative for BHP didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Reuters reported earlier that BP was the lead bidder for the assets after making an offer of more than $10 billion.